On Monday 19th September I had the honour of attending the CHROMA KNIVES – Charity Supper Club – In aid of Action Against Hunger – with food and drink by Aumbry Restaurant.
It all started a couple of months back when @sausagemaking (the Twitter moniker of Franco, owner of Chroma Knives UK (www.chromaknives.co.uk) and Franco’s Famous Sausage Making (www.sausagemaking.org) tweeted, ‘Seriously thinking of doing a very special one off charity supper club here in Manchester, anyone want to be involved?’ (Soon followed by, ‘Do you think I should have told the wife I am having 20 strangers round?’)
Naturally, being a cheeky so and so, I thought I’d chance my arm and invite myself - not for a second believing that I’d actually secure a place! At the time I was fairly new to twitter and had only been writing my blog for a couple of months. So I feel incredibly privileged (and even a bit of a fraud) to have been invited along with ‘key food people from Manchester and London.’
The key ‘key people’ in question were the celebrity chefs Aiden Byrne (www.aidenbyrne.co.uk) and Gizzi Erskine (www.gizzierskine.com)
Aiden, was there with his partner Sarah, who I have had the pleasure of meeting before at their Craxton Wood restaurant. Aiden remains the youngest chef to be awarded a coveted Michelin star. He now two successful gastropubs and a hotel restaurant/grill and has made numerous television appearances, most notably on the Great British Menu. To discover more about Aiden and his food read my posts on The Church Green and the Aiden Byrne British Grill.
Gizzi is also well known on our televisions, having presented the Cook Yourself Thin series and more recently C4’s Cookery School with the Michelin starred Richard Corrigan. Gizzi is more than just a presenter and food writer, having trained as a chef at the prestigious Leith's Cookery School in London. No stranger to the supper club concept, Gizzi had recently cooked a fabulous five course vegetarian feast at Sadie Frost's House in aid of the Hapatitus C Trust.
Also present were the well renowned ‘food bloggers’ Monica Sawhney and Niamh Shields.
Irish born, London based Niamh is the author of the blog ‘Eat Like a Girl’ and has recently had published ‘Comfort & Spice’ her first book. Her blog is listed in the ‘Top 10 Food Blogs in the World’ by The Times and comes ‘Highly Commended’ by the Observer Food Monthly.
All guest at the meal were treated to a signed copy of Comfort and Spice. I have not yet had a chance to try the recipes but after flicking through the book, homely and frugal Irish favourites and international dishes, inspired by her travels have already caught my eye. Over the years, I have spent a small fortune on cookbooks that look beautiful on my shelves but this one promises to be one of the few that I will use again and again! The Pumpkin Gnocchi, Homemade Paneer, Salmon Laksa and Salt & Pepper Squid will all soon, I’m sure, become family favourites.
Monica (along with her bother Ajay and mother) hosts ‘The Spice Club’, Manchester’s first and foremost ‘underground restaurant / supper club’ and writes Monica’s Spice Diary, an Indian Food Blog. The blog features restaurant reviews, chef interviews and recipes for creative and authentic Indian dishes. I guess I’ll soon be trying Niamh’s recipe for home made paneer with Monica’s recipe for Punjabi Paneer Mattar.
|The Aumbry team hard at work.|
Enough about the guests, Franco did a great job securing the services of two of Manchester’s most exciting young and talented chefs – Mary Ellen McTague and her husband Laurence Tottingham from Aumbry Restaurant in Prestwich.
Prior to opening Aumbry in 2009, the couple worked at the Michelin starred Sharrow Bay in Cumbria and spent four years working for the brilliant Heston Blumenthal at the three starred Fat Duck.
Since opening Aumbry has won 'Best Restaurant' at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival and Lancashire Life named them 'Lancashire Restaurant of the Year'. Based on the food we ate, I am eagerly expecting to be editing this list to include a Michelin star of their own when the 2012 Guide for UK and Ireland is published on the 6th of October this year.
Having whet your appetite, I’m sure you want to know more about this phenomenal food. Using the finest locally sourced produce, Aumbry’s menus appear to display a philosophy of hamonising what may be called ‘historical’ or ‘rediscovered’ recipes and flavour combinations with progressive cooking techniques. Each of the fourteen courses showcased Mary-Ellen and Laurence’s skills, creativity and understanding of flavour.
Each of the evening’s fourteen courses was paired with a quality a wine. Including two fizzy offerings from Deutz Champagnes, another of the evening’s kind sponsors. I tend not to drink alcohol (but do have the occasional port) and will therefore be mentioning the wine pairings for those that are interested but will not be commenting.
Smoked Green’s Cheddar Gougères, Parma Ham, Kale Chips, Pickled Elderberries (Wine: Deutz Brut Classic NV, Ay, France) - Laid out during the drinks reception, I did not give these dishes the attention they deserved. I always have Green's cheddar at home but have not used it in Gourgeres before; that will soon change. The ham was fabulous and fellow guest Mark Garner aka Gordo from Manchester Confidential and myself discussed its merits. Somehow the Kale Crisps eluded me; I don't know how that happened as I had been looking forward to them and even managed to take a picture!
|Dripping - You may never want butter again!|
Bread & Dripping - Of course I've heard of bread and dripping - my parents harp on about how wonderful it was; even my wife has fond memories of having it as a child. So how have I got to the ripe old age of 36 and have never had it before! It's amazing! Why is there's not a dripping aisle in my local Waitrose? Why is Johnny Rotten not advertising it on my TV? To quote Gizzi, it was "Ridiculous!" (That means good).
Pork Liver Paté, Jasmine & honey (Riesling Réné Muré, 2006) - Tried and tested flavour combinations served on dinky antique plates with modern spherification techniques. The jasmine flavour was sublime and the honey deliciously sweet.
Home Smoked Mackerel Poached rhubarb, mustard cream & toasted rye bread (Chablis ‘Le Grand Bois’, Domaine Grande Chaume, 2008) - This was one of my favourite courses. I love mackerel and the subtle smoking and tartly sweet rhubarb were perfect accompaniments.
Bury Black Pudding Scotch Egg Mushroom relish & tomato ketchup (Bardolino Custoza, 2009) - Fortunately, I was sat next to Gizzi, a self proclaimed scotch egg connoisseur who talked about having to munch her way through some forty-odd meaty eggy morsels when having to judge the 'World Scotch Egg Championships' or some such competition (I really should have taken more notes!) Another bonus of sitting next Gizzi ‘The Scotch Egg Queen’ Erskine was that we got to share an additional one when the kitchen sent through a couple of spares! Get in!
Cauliflower & Oat Groat Porage, Cauliflower cheese beignets (Pecorino IGT, Passetti, 2009) - This dish was the biggest surprise on the menu for many, I think. Although, I often find the course that sounds the least appetising or 'fancy' has the potential to wow the most. Take Heston's Snail Porridge, for example... and of course, with Mary-Ellen and Laurence having spent four years in the Fat Duck kitchens you'd expect them to know a thing or two about making this humble peasant ingredient into a fine, fine dining dish - and they do! The cheese beignets were so light and delicious; I could've eaten a dozen of them.
Poached Plaice, Oyster pudding, fennel & mew (Sancerre St Michel Girard, 2010) - The only disappointment of the evening was the absence of 'mew' - this rare foraged leaf is said to have a taste resembling dill and is something that I have yet to try... but will eagerly be looking out for at Aumbry in the future. Another contender for my favourite dish, the oyster pudding was heavenly. I love oysters and I love suet – a perfect marriage.
Braised Ringley Tamworth & Wild Boar Cross Pork, Cuttlefish & black peas (Rully Premier Cru, Eric de Suremain 2006) - Franco, our host, provided the porky goodness for this dish from his own farm… and what a tasty fella he was too! (That's the boar I'm talking about; not Franco!) I am aware of the Lancashire specialty 'black peas' from the time when a former colleague from school (I am a Primary Teacher) decided it would be a great idea to cook up a giant vat of them to give his class a taste one bonfire night - they did not go down too well with the kids! Thankfully, Aumbry's version was much more refined and definitely got my and Niamh's seal of approval! The crispy cuttlefish was a great addition as where the little spherifications of its ink.
Slow Cooked Cumbrian Boer Goat Pearl barley, cauliflower & smoked shallot (Chateau Labégorce Zédé, Margaux Cru Bourgeois Exceptionelle, 2000) - An amazing course! Discs of a minted Madeira jelly topped the wonderfully textured plump 'pearls' of pearl barley, which were mixed together with the pulled goat meat, making for an unctuous umami rich union. There were many murmurs coming from up and down the table proclaiming this the best dish.
British & Irish Cheeses (Gewurztraminer Late Harvest 2006 & Krohn Colheita Port 1978) - A favourite of my wife's, the Kidderton Ash goat's cheese was delightfully ripe and tasted especially great with the carrot chutney. There are some fabulous Cheddars about at the moment and the strong and fruity Isle of Mull offering, when paired with the plum and rhubarb chutney was a fine example of its type with a long finish and deep aftertaste. My favourite of the cheeses offer was the Harbourne Blue - the crumbly yet creamy blue goat's cheese, tinged with a terrific tang provided a wonderful end to the cheese board, especially as it was washed down with mine and Gizzi's ports (my only alcoholic dry drink of the evening.) The Krohn Colheita's are generally my favourite ports and the '78 is an especially good year.
Grapefruit Posset Celery granita & grapefruit sherbet (Pacherenc St Albert, 2009) – Unfortunately, I cannot show you a close up picture of this dish - at just over five hours, ten courses and paired wines into the meal (not to mention refills) many round the table were relaxing and beginning to get playfully excited and cameras and iPhones had started to be used for snapping silly shots. The grapefruit sherbet was fizzily excellent – amusingly, Lucy did not see hers on the spoon and sent it flying across the table.
Macerated Strawberries, Elderflower, rose & pepper (Deutz Rosé Vintage 2006) - Waiting for this dish, I took a stroll into the kitchen to see Mary-Ellen, Laurence and their team looking exhausted but still giving their all to assemble more faultless plates of food. The strawberry dessert being one of the evening's most delicate and beautiful.
Almond Crisp, Chocolate mousse, Griottine cherries & cocoa sorbet (Jean Bousquet Malbec, Dulce Naturale, 2007) - You can't beat good chocolate dessert and this chocolate dessert would take some beating! I have not had a chocolate dessert this good since Alex Stupak's ‘Soft Chocolate’ at WD-50 in New York. The almond crisps were the prefect crunchy yet crumbly texture.
The meal was followed with coffee and petit fours and a dram of an aromatic, golden amber 21-year-old whiskey that had been provided Genfarclas (http://www.glenfarclas.co.uk), another of the evening’s generous sponsors.
|Franco, Laurence and Mary-Ellen|
Eventually, at around 2 am, dinner had been served and the meal ended with a highly deserved rapturous applause for Mary-Ellen and Laurence. An amazing evening of fantastic food cooked and served by the wonderful Aumbry team. The front of house team provided excellent service, throughout the evening and into the small hours; always remaining relaxed enough to acknowledge that this was a supper club in a private residence and formal enough to maintain professionalism and uphold Aumbry’s high standards. An excellent job! They certainly earned their goody bag and wine provided by Chroma knives.
|Goody bags: Niamh's Comfort & Spice and an excellent Porsche 301 knife.|
Some of Aumbry’s recipes can be found in the book, Relish the Taste of Greater Manchester & Cheshire. Aiden Byrne’s Made In Great Britain, Niamh Shield’s Comfort & Spice and Gizzi’s Kitchen Magic and Cook Yourself Thin are all available in all good bookshops and online.
The rumour is Aiden Byrne has agreed to cook at the next CHROMA KNIVES – Charity Supper Club in the New Year. Good news for the guests but does Aiden realise that he will miss out on all the fun? (I wonder if I’ll be able to blag another cheeky invite or will some other lucky foodie take my place?)